It’s a real pleasure to be invited to write about your film, you get chuffed that someone cares to know. There’s plenty of great creative projects that don’t get that chance, so we’re very appreciative. So cheers Cinema Australia for the opportunity to wax on about our journey with Dick’s Clinic!
Written by Johnny Flynn (Writer, Producer, Editor Dick’s Clinic):
From the beginning
The idea of a guy running his own therapy clinic from his garage came to me while I was studying screenwriting at RMIT in 2011. Being a writer and filmmaker, I was very aware of what you can pull off yourself without a budget. “Write what you can afford” was always the catch cry that stuck in my head. There’s no point throwing in a car chase when the only cars available to you are a Nissan Micra and a Toyota Camry. As result I’m forever thinking up story scenarios that can be shot with minimum locations and well, minimum everything.
I’d initially written the story with my brother Danny’s place in mind. But with two young kids in toe, the reality was too ambitious. But I always liked the idea. One day I went to visit my partner Sarah’s friends place in Moonee Ponds and it was the perfect layout for this story. I asked them if I could see the garage – that was perfect too. It was really quite exciting. I was story boarding, and in-head editing while nodding the whole time at whatever we talked about. I must have come across as this overenthusiast who was interested in every aspect of these peoples lives, whom I didn’t really know. I think at this stage I had already given the script in it’s early draft form to my other brother Pat; pretty confident he’d get the humour as we tend to share that trait. Once he came back to me with a positive response, I asked him if he wanted to direct it. He did.
Fast forward a year and a vacancy came up at Sarah’s friend’s house. We jumped on it, even though it was more than we could really comfortably afford in rent. I knew being in the location would make production so much easier. Although it wasn’t like we moved in and started shooting. In fact, I was going through a stage of thinking I was over the whole filmmaking caper. I was getting older (42) and didn’t think I had that energy and enthusiasm needed to sustain driving a feature film production (especially one where I knew I wouldn’t get paid!). Then my teacher from RMIT, Ian Pringle, called me asking if I wanted to help out on his Indie feature The Legend Maker (which is showing at MIFF this year). He was in a bit of a bind looking for a 1st AD at the last minute. It was a three week shoot, 6 days a week and long hours. But the crew was small and became really tight. After a week and a half I realised how much I loved doing this. So when his shoot finished, I got straight into another draft of Dick’s Clinic and started the ball rolling again. Pat and I started meeting regularly, then it became un-regularly. And we soon realised that neither of us was accountable to each other. We’re brothers. So I asked John Fairhurst, a good friend from RMIT, if he wanted to help us produce it. Fortunately for us he said yes.
The script went through plenty of drafts where Pat and John would give me feedback on each one. The script would never have been as strong without their detailed input. We’d meet pretty much every week, until one day we decided we had to pick a date. So we did and felt our stomachs drop the moment we decided. Even though we gave ourselves plenty of time for a shoot in September (which became November eventually), it’s still a daunting thought when you know what’s involved.
Getting the money
Believe it or not, the last thing we tried to get was the money to make the film. Simply because we would’ve made it regardless. But I was having a conversation with my cousin Jamie over the phone who told me he’d just sold the building to his blinds business, so I said, it’s probably a good time to ask you to fund my film then? He said, yep probably. And that was kinda that. Jamie was a film buff and a keen photographer so he saw it as an investment of more ‘love’ than commerce. Pat and myself funded the rest. With my two sisters and uncle chipping in. So the budget wasn’t something that ever held us up in terms of production. Having said that we were (and still are!) penniless from the venture.
We went through a fairly lengthy casting period (3-4 months), starting by simply sending the script out there to agents, actors we new, etc. Having graduated from VCA acting, Pat knew a lot of actors and had a good sense of who could pull off what. We got a really good response from most agents, who we found out later really pushed their actors to read it. Which was great to hear. Sophie Jermyn in Sydney really championed the script to her actors. And as a result we cast Nicole Shostak, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Aaron Tsindos, Adele Querol and Caleb Alloway all from her books. We’d conduct auditions at FilmBooksAnything where I worked (a small production house in Brunswick) on Wednesday nights and Saturdays. I remember having a not so encouraging night where the actors didn’t really seem to get the piece. It was a bit of a downer because we all knew that being a dialogue heavy script, the actors couldn’t just be okay, they had to be really good. However, the next morning we received an email from Sophie Jermyn with about seven self-test auditions. And they blew us away. It was like a new bar had been set. And we all felt that adrenalin of excitement at the potential of the film if we did it right. But we were still having trouble casting Dick and Reece (the main two characters). John Fairhurst had previously met with Clayton Jacobson, who gave him the advice to go for whatever actor you wanted. If they liked the script and were available then they’d probably do it. So we made a wish list and sent it to their agents.
Justin Rosniak was actually at the top of my wish list. I’d seen him years before on an episode of Packed To The Rafters, and he just made me laugh. It was his delivery and demeanour. My favourite actors are those who pull off real drama brilliantly but have an inherent comedic way about them. The likes of Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Bill Murray (of course) come to mind. I also remember seeing Justin in Animal Kingdom a couple of years later and having the thought that he was probably getting too big to approach for a small indie film. But hell, Clayton Jacobson said go for it so we did! It was serendipitous really as he (Justin) was doing the play I’m Your Man, which was touring nationally, when his agent got in touch saying Justin was interested and that he’d be in Melbourne on Thursday (it was Tuesday). So Pat and I went to I’m Your Man at the North Melbourne town hall and chatted to him afterward. It was about five minutes into the conversation where we just new he was our man. We offered him the role then and there and he accepted. It was the single best move of our careers thus far!
I guess reading the script, the biggest challenge people would think we would have was casting Penelope (aka Pope ’N’ Dagger). Who’s written as a nine year old foul mouthed tomboy rapper. Normally you’d have to scour the country looking for the right actor who could pull it off, and you’d still need your fingers crossed. But the role was actually written for someone in mind…. Sarah and I had holidayed through the outback in a camper van during the christmas break 2012. We stopped over and stayed at a caravan park in outback Queensland where we met Azra (Edwards) for the first time. Her mum and siblings were camping in the lot next to us and she just wandered over and started sizing us up. She was this 8 year old with the awareness of a fifty year old. And just this hilarious wit. She also happened to live about ten minutes from us in Melbourne. I reckon I decided after two days knowing her that I wanted to put her in a movie. So when I came home I wrote her in it. Only in hindsight do I realise what a bold move that was – she’d never acted in her life! I knew she could do it. But she just hadn’t done it yet. I remember spending a few hours with her in front of the camera doing a scene because I wanted to show Pat and John that she was right for the role. To be expected, she was nervous, but not ‘into her shell’ nervous – she’s not like that. But more hyperactive nervous. She finally hit her straps and did a ripper take. I showed it to Pat and John and they really laughed out loud. She wasn’t even saying the dialogue as written, she’d just make stuff up. Stuff that made me look like a good writer! It was the first of a couple of sigh of reliefs.
The production was helped enormously by the pre-production. Pat, John and myself would spend the weekends during the months before the shoot storyboarding and blocking the scenes as best we could. Given I lived in the house we were shooting at made this a less painful exercise, so we were confident we were giving ourselves enough time and creativity to make the film look like a well “funded film”. The days leading up to the shoot, my co-DOP and good mate Pete Garnish and I pre-lit most of the troublesome scenes which made going into the shoot a little less stressful. Pat spent the week prior rehearsing with the actors and felt confident we were going to get what we needed. However, we both knew we would probably limp over the line.
The second big sigh of relief came on the first day of shooting. I had initially scheduled all Azra’s days toward the end of the three week shoot, just in case she froze or refused or did whatever a nine year old girl is entitled to do when nervous and having to perform in front of a crew of people she’d never met. However, her mum had the dates wrong and she was due to go to New Zealand with her family in the week I scheduled her. So we had to do a last minute shuffle and shoot her main scenes on the first day. Whether we liked it or not, it was going to set the vibe for the rest of the shoot. I remember the first few takes weren’t usable. She was nervous and being a bit un-coperative. So we took five and she went and hung out in the lounge room turned “green room” for the actors. I remember thinking this kid, unbeknown to her, has the weight of this whole film on her shoulders. I told her she had all the time in the world, and if she didn’t want to do it then she didn’t have to. Then I left the room so she could talk to her mum, and I joined the rest of the crew out in the garage. Not really knowing what to tell them. But pretending everything was cool. After about five minutes she came back out and was ready to go. No sign of the previous nerves. We rolled straight away and after that take there was this eruptive applause by Justin, Pat and the whole crew. She just nailed it. You could see the joy in her face at doing such a great job, and her confidence skyrocketed. From then on she was, as Justin put it, “the best actor in the room!”.
The rest of the production wasn’t without difficulty, as you’d expect, and the weather especially wasn’t kind early. We made the decision on day 2 or 3 to shoot in the rain instead of postpone. We’d re-arrange the schedule last minute to shoot what was happening on the same day in the script whenever we got a rain day. John Fairhurst was constantly giving us a weather update on the cloud coverage app he had. It was actually invaluable because we got to plan the day with more knowledge about what was coming weather-wise than we ever could without it. Then there were the planes (not to mention the birds, council workers, drummers & whipper snipperers!). Moonee Ponds is right near Essendon airport so we had a heap of air traffic. My partner Sarah worked harder than anyone. Every weekday morning (and a couple of Saturdays) there’d be people at the house by seven and she’d have a food spread and coffee brewing. Then she’d run off and get anything we’d need during the day. Pat and I would spent the time before anyone got there going over what we had to do for the day. Sometimes together, sometimes separately. Once we had momentum we didn’t want to stop in fear of losing it. So it was just go, go, go (not like that’s extraordinary for a film shoot). But overall it was really the best shoot I’ve done, in terms of fun. Which had a lot to do with Rosniak. He’s just a great bloke, and everyone who came on set kind of took their cues from him. It definitely made shooting it easier. Although it wasn’t all smooth sailing on the actor front. We had one actor pull out when we’d already started filming!! He thought his character wasn’t funny enough compared to the other characters and wanted to re-write the script (only not in a funny way). It was real panic stations for a couple of days. But fortunately Jeremy Kewley came through for us and got us in contact with Don Bridges. There isn’t much Jeremy Kewley hasn’t done for emerging filmmakers in this country, but he delivered again both on screen and off for us. And we’ll always be very grateful to him for that. So Don Bridges, who’s a legend in his own right, reads the script at the last minute and agrees to do it, and he was just amazing. He took what was apparently the most unfunny character and turned him into the funniest.
Post-production for me is quite enjoyable. With one caveat; only if you think you’ve got what you need in the can. Otherwise it takes years off your life. But there’s no frantic pace, it’s like a sigh of relief. The way we worked was very similar to the drafting of the script. I’d do a cut of the film, then Pat and John would give feedback and suggestions and I’d do another cut. We screened the second (or 3rd – can’t remember) cut to a small group at RMIT when the cut was running at 2 hours and 5 mins, and it still went down really well. The laughs were sustained all the way through. We were getting more and more confident that we had a good film on our hands. Time will tell if people agree or not. But it’s definitely something we’re very proud of. And we’ve taken a lot of positives away from this experience, as you do from any shoot I suppose. But this one, as Justin would put it, “feels special”.
In terms of the music score; we had a couple of really talented people offer to score the film, and we were flattered they thought to offer. But one of the things we stuck to was our original intention of using the music from Melbourne bands that we know and love. Our brother is a musician, my partner is a musician, a few of my great mates are as well. I’m surrounded by amazing songwriters who’s songs aren’t getting the exposure they deserve. And when we pieced it all together in post, it just worked way better than I could imagine any score doing. I guess subconsciously I could see which scenes might have worked with certain songs, but the way some songs hugged moments was like they were written for the film. And I’m so happy we stuck to our original plan because I really believe the music is a highlight of the film. So when people hear the names Major Chord, October Wish, Delsinki Records, The Ronson Hangup, The Bad Penguins, Belle Roscoe and Hotei, they need to source these bands out because they’re fantastic. Sadly the main stream music industry seems to be drowning in the white wash of The Voice and Idol releases so much that it’s forgotten that there’s a real music culture out there. I guess it’s a bit like the film industry but on a larger scale. We tend to get force-fed what’s cliche and safe, so we have to actively source out what’s inspiring. Maybe that’s just me getting old, but hopefully this film does something to promote the latter.